Since the dawn of time humans have been telling stories. Our ancestors used cave paintings, ancient oratory, dramatic theatre, and even interpretive dance to communicate with the world around them. Stories allow us to make sense of our family history, laugh at current events, and dream about the future. They pass on lessons learned from our past. And they cultivate a community of shared experiences and shared identities. Paul Zak explains in the Harvard Business Review that there are even neurobiological reasons why we love stories saying, “As social creatures, we depend on others for our survival and happiness.”
In early March, the Knowledge for Health (K4Health) Project hosted a webinar on utilizing digital storytelling techniques for health communication campaigns. The project team highlighted that tools of the digital age have allowed storytellers to adapt to specific contexts and audiences. For example, when describing family planning conditions in Islamabad, you can’t bring a woman from Pakistan with you every time you tell the story, but you can bring a video of her telling it.
As professional knowledge sharers, it’s easy for us to lose sight of the human elements when the bulk of our work involves technical jargon and abstract concepts. In the development sphere, personal stories are more than entertainment. They are educational and provide cultural context, explain why we, as a society, exist, how we survive disease, and how we adapt to challenges. In the digital age, we can communicate across a variety of platforms to reach many cultures. These platforms include maps, videos, pictures, drawings, and podcasts.
Within the context of learning, storytelling is a way to capture and translate knowledge. At USAID/LEARN, a new mechanism out of USAID’s Learning, Evaluation, and Research (LER) Office in the Bureau of Policy, Planning, and Learning (PPL), we support strategic learning and knowledge management at USAID to improve the effectiveness of programs in achieving sustainable development outcomes. Storytelling is a significant component of learning. We need to share stories of success, failure, and contextual adaptation in order to benefit from those experiences in the future. USAID Learning Lab offers many resources on how storytelling can support knowledge capture and translation, including tools, cases, lessons learned, promising practices, and more. In addition, below are several additional resources shared at K4Health’s Digital Storytelling Webinar.
Do you have a storytelling resource or case to share? Be sure to post it in the comments below!
One Mobile Projector per Trainer (OMPT), a California-based organization works to educate the world’s poorest billion with low-cost video technology. They work closely with local development organizations around the world, conducting 3-day video education workshops. These workshops not only provide the latest training in the health sector and other disciplines, they also equip teams on the ground with a camera kit, a projector, and a recharging kit and the skills to capture and promote local stories. To spread the word, they rely on the “sneaker-net,” an informal network of individuals who put their videos on SD cards and walk from village to village sharing stories.
Esri, another California-based organization uses a geographic information system (GIS) to collect and map stories through their interactive Story Maps. Story Maps are simple web apps that combine interactive maps, multimedia content, and user experience.
Story Maps, which are hosted in the Esri cloud, are free, open-source web apps that combine interactive maps, multimedia content, and user experiences into comprehensive maps that can be downloaded. There are two kinds of sequential, place-based narratives: Story Map Tour and Story Map Journal. The Story Map Tour presents geo-tagged photos or videos in a narrative with good visuals and minimal text. This app is presented much like a photo gallery that allows readers to follow the narrative in a compelling, visual way. Story Map Journals serve as an in-depth diary that can accommodate a richer mix of multimedia content and more text.
Silence Speaks, an organization that fosters healing, solidarity, and training and advocacy for human rights through intensive, hands-on participatory media workshops, works to use personal narratives and participatory media as tools for social and behavior change communication. In her presentation, Amy Hill, the co-Founder and current Director of the organization discussed the importance of first-person stories. Personal stories are intimate and universal forms of communication. They provide a “unique blend of first-person voice and participatory media.” Unlike impersonal, third-person accounts, which are less vivid and often statistical, first-person stories are honest and relatable. When people see and hear other people like themselves, they feel support and, hopefully, motivated to change their behavior in life. In her post, “Why You Need to Use Storytelling for Learning,” Connie Malamed points out that stories give meaning to data. In order for data to have value, it must be used to inform. Data comes alive when it is placed within the context of a story.
The organization also uses community-based participatory media to foster a collaborative environment to support the telling of stories that often remain unspoken and unheard. This kind of setting gathers diverse perspectives that are shaped by the voices of many rather than “expert” professionals to democratize the storytelling process instead of isolating subjects in individual interviews. The program demystifies the media production process by introducing the mechanics of how media is produced and offering concrete skills to participants.